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Telluride: Our Expert Visitor's Guide

Telluride, a town of plenty that embodies adventure, charm, and a unique cultural tapestry. Nestled at the end of a box canyon, this picturesque town is surrounded by soaring mountains, cascading waterfalls, and a river that meanders through the heart of it all.

Telluride's allure comes from its dramatic views and vibrant mountain culture. The San Juan Mountains are a mecca for outdoor adventure. The remote location provides a sense of seclusion; a place to reset and recharge. As you take in the 360 degree views of the rugged landscape, this mountain sanctuary allows you to gain a deeper connection to nature. The quaint Victorian style homes contrasting with the well-preserved historic architecture gives the town a unique appeal. But what really makes the town so vibrant is the community spirit, commonly referred to as the Telluride vibe.

This tight knit community with a population of 2,500 holds a strong passion for outdoor recreation and expression. The artistic spirit accentuates through the valley in various forms of art galleries, live performances, and music festivals. Wander through the streets, and you’ll find a welcoming fusion of local flavors from artisanal coffee shops to eclectic boutiques. The buzzing energy of festivals speaks to Telluride’s modern vitality and is globally recognized for events such as Telluride Film Festival and Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The town celebrates adventure, activism, environment, and indomitable spirit. One festival that weaves all of those together is Mountain Film, a meeting of the minds in the form of documentary films to inspire, create awareness, and participate in a more sustainable and eco-friendly manner. Other distinguishing events that maintain the Telluride vibe are the Mushroom Festival, Telluride Aids Benefit, and the Nothing Festival- a naked bike ride that passes through the Main street.

Where Is Telluride?

A beautiful view of Telluride The southwestern pocket of Colorado is characterized by drastic landscapes of steep canyons, towering peaks, and distinctive rock formations. The town of Telluride lies at the end of a valley, once formed by a large glacier with various geological processes giving way to Telluride’s mining history. Telluride opens up to the West looking toward Moab, Utah providing excellent sunsets and stunning alpenglow. As you look East, you are consumed by the San Juan Mountain Range, with a backdrop of multiple waterfalls cascading down toward the town. To the North, you will see Sneffels Peak, one of the iconic 14,000 ft peaks. And looking South, you will find the world class ski resort with a gondola that transports you between the town and Mountain Village.

Getting to Telluride takes some perseverance as it is considered a remote destination. The nearest airports are Montrose and Durango, requiring additional ground transportation. Both of these drives are a part of the San Juan Skyway, one of Colorado's most popular historic and scenic byways. If you are able to make the drive from Montrose in daylight, the commute along the Dallas Divide is well worth it, even Ralph Lauren would agree. Coming from Durango you drive over Lizard Head Pass, a high alpine wilderness area at 10,200 ft.

The History of Telluride

A historical view of Telluride Dating back to the original settlers, the Utes inhabited the region where Telluride is located. Being hunter-gatherers they would travel and camp in familiar sites, using well established routes. The Ute people lived in harmony with their environment, learning to give and take from the land and utilizing the topography to their advantage. The European Invasion in the 18th century eventually pushed the Southern Utes out of the mountains.

By the late 19th century, this remote part of the West witnessed a feverish rush as prospectors sought fortune in its rich mines. Gold, silver, and other precious metals were extracted, giving birth to the bustling mining town of Columbia, present day Telluride.

With the discovery of gold, the town boomed with a population of 5,000 residents, attracting fortune-seekers, entrepreneurs, and dreamers. By 1890, Columbia had officially changed its name to Telluride, originating from “to-hell-u-ride”, reflecting the lively and rowdy character of bustling gaming parlors, saloons, and infamous brothels. The arrival of the Rio Grande Southern Railroad brought people from various parts of the world. The infamous outlaw, Butch Cassidy started his bank robbing career at the San Miguel National Bank, leaving a touch of Wild West flair to the town’s narrative.

As the mining industry waned in the early 20th century, Telluride faced a crossroads and the stunning natural beauty now took center stage. Telluride transformed into a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, preserving its historic charm while embracing a new identity as a ski destination. In 1961, preservation efforts led to the designation of the town and its surroundings as the Telluride National Historic Landmark District, ensuring that the architectural legacy of the mining era remained intact.

A decade later, Telluride Ski Resort opened, marking a pivotal moment in the town’s history. The steep slopes and powder-covered peaks attracted skiers from around the world, solidifying Telluride’s status as a premier winter destination. Now a different sort of gold is being mined - the form of legendary powder.

Visiting Telluride Today

People are visiting Telluride sitting in a jeep Today, Telluride stands as a testament to the resilience of communities that adapt to change. Its streets echo with tales of miners and mavericks, and its mountains provide a canvas for outdoor adventures. As you explore Telluride, you step back in time, feeling the pulse of a town that has weathered the storms of history and emerged as a timeless gem in the Rockies.

As you embark on your Telluride adventure, consider starting your visit with a stroll along Colorado Avenue, the town’s main street. Lined with colorful storefronts and historic facades, it sets the stage for the unique charm that defines Telluride.

For a historical immersion, make your way to the Telluride Historical Museum; a captivating journey through time, unraveling the stories of pioneers, miners, and the spirited characters who shaped the town’s story. As you absorb the rich history, you’ll find that every building and street corner has a tale to tell. Cruise down to popcorn alley, named for the constant opening and closing doors, a red light district if you will. Continue walking East on the River Trail following the Idarado Legacy trail stopping off at the Lone Cone Cemetery.

Fuel up at one of the local cafes, offering a delightful mix of flavors to satisfy any palate. From coffee at Bruno to artisanal treats at Butcher and the Baker, both of these establishments showcase the region’s local ingredients and creativity. Swing by the infamous Free Box and score a hand-me-down Patagonia jacket or Cinderella's glass slippers.

As the day unfolds, the mountains call. Depending on the season, you might find yourself gliding down powdery slopes or embarking on a scenic hike surrounded by wildflowers and waterfalls. And if it’s early summer season, don’t miss the chance to paddle the exhilarating rapids of the San Miguel River on a rafting adventure. Take a gondola ride to Mountain Village and soak in the breathtaking panoramic views, revealing the grandeur of the surrounding peaks; a perfect place to catch the sunset.

Come evening, treat your taste buds to the local culinary delights. From rustic mountain fare to fine dining experiences, Telluride’s restaurants cater to a spectrum of palates. Consider joining the locals for an evening of entertainment at the historic Sheridan Opera House, where live performances breathe life into Telluride’s cultural scene. Or check out Telluride Arts Transfer Warehouse often featuring live music, theater performances, or film screenings, providing a perfect way to cap off a day filled with exploration and discovery.

Whether you’re drawn by the thrill of outdoor pursuits or the allure of cultural gems, visiting Telluride promises an unforgettable journey through a town that seamlessly blends adventure, history, and artistic expression.

When to Visit Telluride

Choosing the right time to visit Telluride depends on your interests and activities you wish to pursue. Each season paints a distinct canvas, offering a range of experiences for every type of traveler.

Winter Wonderland (December- March) For snow enthusiasts, winter is pure magic in Telluride. The landscape turns into a fresh white canvas as skiers and snowboarders paint the slopes with fresh tracks. The ski town vibe comes alive with ski films, ski competitions, après scenes, and a collective energy of stoke from a good day on the hill. Beyond the ski area, there are many other ways to enjoy the snow, such as snowmobiling, ice climbing, nordic skiing, winter fat biking, or snowshoeing. Just after the first week of April, the streets turn quiet. Establishments close down as locals head out to warmer climates and Telluride becomes a sleepy ghost town.

Spring Awakening (May-June) When May comes around, this marks the transition into spring and a great time to take advantage of lodging deals. The melting snow brings life back to the rivers and is prime time for rafting in Telluride. The snow clings to the high alpine mountains above as the elevations below pop vibrantly green, a beautiful contrast with the red walls that line the Valley. Memorial Day weekend kicks off the season as world famous athletes, filmmakers, and environmentalists gather for Mountain Film. During the spring it is important to dress in layers, as you can experience every type of weather all in just one outing.

Summer Adventures (July-August) When the summer solstice comes around, its Telluride Bluegrass Festival, an iconic four day music event that's captivated music lovers since 1973. Summer in Telluride is a melting pot of cultural events and outdoor activity. The days are long and the weather is perfect for taking full advantage of getting out in nature. The town buzzes in the warm summer nights with outdoor patios, rooftop bars, and lively music venues.

Golden Fall (September-October) Telluride embraces autumn with a spectacular display of golden hues. The splendor of the fall foliage can be enjoyed by cruising Last Dollar Road, hiking Sneffels Highline, or mountain biking the Eider Connector. Don’t forget your lederhosen as the festival season comes to close with Telluride Blues and Brews.

Each season brings a fresh new energy, a change in scenery and different interests. Whether you crave the excitement of winter sports, the blossoming beauty of spring, the multitude of outdoor adventures in summer, or the tranquility of fall, your Telluride visit awaits year-round.

What You'll See When You Arrive in Telluride

As you approach the town of Telluride, you are greeted by the natural beauty of the Valley Floor, an expansive nature preserve made up of meadows, wetlands, and riparian habitats. Along this 3 mile stretch leading into town you may encounter deer, elk, black bear, beaver, badger, and various kinds of birds. The San Miguel River meanders through the valley, a perfect place to paddleboard or fly fish.

Driving into the town itself, you will be welcomed by the Victorian architecture and rustic mountain charm. The historic main street, Colorado Avenue is lined with authentic store fronts and inviting restaurants and cafes. The lack of chain stores and absence of traffic lights adds a unique character and sense of tranquility. When you look toward the end of the box canyon you will be enthralled by the sight of Colorado’s highest free flowing waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls. Wandering through the streets, you’ll notice a palpable energy - a mix of locals going about their day and visitors eager to explore. Telluride’s compact size makes it eminently walkable, allowing you to soak in the atmosphere at your own pace.

Telluride’s welcoming spirit extends beyond its physical beauty. Locals exude a genuine friendliness, making each visitor feel like a part of the community.

Telluride Ski Resort

Whether you’re a seasoned skier looking for challenging descents or a family seeking a winter getaway, Telluride Ski Resort is the ideal destination for a remarkable winter retreat. The ski resort encompasses over 2,000 acres of skiable terrain, catering to all skill levels from beginners to expert. The terrain is diverse providing wide beginner runs, gladed tree skiing, multiple terrain parks, playful groomed blues, open bowls, steeps, chutes, and inbounds hike-to’s reaching summits up to 13,000ft. There are multiple on-hill dining experiences, from the European chalet style of Alpino Vino to a more casual family scene of Gorrono Ranch.

If you ask many of the local’s they will say they came for the winter and stayed for the summer. Telluride summers are pure bliss, with endless social and outdoor activities accessible right from the backdoor. As the weather turns from winter to spring, Telluride Ski Resort becomes a summer playground with lift accessible mountain bike trails, canopy tours, and one of the highest elevation golf courses in the world.

Looking for the perfect mountain wedding, celebrating a milestone event, or planning a corporate event? Telluride Ski Resort helps curate lifetime memories from special events to epic outdoor adventures.

Telluride's Weather & Climate

Telluride is considered a high altitude mountain environment. The town’s elevation exceeds 8,750ft at the edge of the southwest desert contributing to Telluride’s climate variations. Visitors should be prepared for changes in weather, packing many layers of clothing. The typical saying is “if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes”.

The coldest time of year tends to be the end of December into January where temperatures are often around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If you come in February, chances are you will be in the scene of a snowglobe with the town of Telluride as the backdrop. By March, spring conditions have taken hold. On the south facing side of town, you may see the grass turning green and signs of blooming vegetation.

The warmest time of year is typically the beginning of summer in June and July before the monsoons arrive. The monsoon season brings afternoon thunderstorms, lush conditions, and frequent rainbows. If you're planning a high altitude adventure in July and August, make sure to leave early in the morning. Watch the thunder clouds and get below the treeline when you suspect a thunderstorm.

Getting To & Around Telluride

Telluride is accessible by air and road, offering various options for travelers

  • By air: The nearest major airport is Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ), approximately 65 miles away. For private and charter flights you can fly straight into Telluride (TEX). To get from Montrose to Telluride there are multiple shuttle services, from Telluride Express to Mountain Limo.
  • By Car: Driving to Telluride provides a scenic journey through the mountains. Major highways include US-550 and CO-145. Keep in mind that mountainous terrain may result in winding roads and elevation changes.

Getting Around in Telluride:

  • Free Gondola: Telluride boasts a unique and convenient mode of transportation – a gondola system connecting Telluride with Mountain Village. This is the first and only free public transportation system of its kind in the United States. This popular scenic attraction provides access to hiking and biking trails in the summer and the ski slopes in the winter. Passengers can load the Gondola in either Mountain Village or Telluride and ride to the midway point (Station St. Sophia from which hiking, biking and ski trails are accessed) and then continue on to the other side. The gondola runs daily from 6:30 a.m. to midnight during winter and summer. During the weekends and special events, extended hours may be in place. The gondola closes for a short duration in the late spring and fall for maintenance and other operational needs.
  • Walking: The town of Telluride is pedestrian-friendly, allowing visitors to explore its charming streets, historic sites, and various shops on foot. Take the River trail and enjoy a peaceful town commute.
  • Galloping Goose Town Bus Loop: When the mining boom crashed, the railroad was forced to scale down their operations. To keep the railroad running, the Galloping Goose, a gasoline-engine "railbus" was created. The first Goose was fabricated from the body of a Buick in 1931. Compared to the steam locomotive, it was economical to operate and maintain. The fleet was ultimately expanded to seven, with each new Goose an improved-upon design. The Geese galloped through the San Juan's, carrying the U.S. Mail, passengers, and freight, until the 1950s. This Galloping Goose Town Loop continues to carry passengers through Telluride.
  • Biking: Commuting around town on a bike is a popular mode of transportation, especially during the warmer months. The town has bike paths, and many visitors enjoy exploring the area on two wheels. Rent a cruiser bike or an electric bike and always remember to lock your bike.
  • Rental Cars: While having a car is not necessary for getting around Telluride itself, it can be useful for exploring nearby attractions or enjoying the flexibility of a self-guided tour. Rent a jeep to access some of the nearby trailheads.

Navigating Telluride is part of the experience, with the stunning scenery accompanying your travels. Whether you arrive by air or road, and whether you choose to glide on the gondola or explore on foot, getting to and around Telluride is designed to enhance your overall experience in this mountain paradise

The Contrast Between Aspen & Telluride

Beautiful view of tha mountains If you're choosing between Aspen and Telluride for your mountain getaway, there are a few distinct characteristics between these two historical mining towns turned world class ski resorts. Aspen, with its polished and upscale ambience, is known for its luxurious amenities and glamorous appeal. Aspen exudes a cosmopolitan feel with chain boutiques and elegant lodgings. Telluride boasts a rugged and unpretentious charm. Telluride’s ambiance is more unassuming and eclectic with no stop lights or chain outlets. Aspen is more accessible with its own airport and close vicinity to Denver's International Airport.

Beyond the Slopes: Exploring Telluride’s Diverse Attractions

While Telluride is celebrated for its world-class skiing, the town offers a myriad of attractions that extend well beyond the slopes. Here are some must-visit destinations to enhance your Telluride experience.

  1. Telluride Historical District: Take a self guided walking tour of Telluride’s Historic District. Start off at the Telluride Historical Museum, located in the restored 1896 miners’ hospital. Remembering the cultures of the Ute, settlers and miners, the Historical Museum also reflects upon the town’s skiing and transportation histories, high-altitude innovations and the building’s history as a hospital. Continue your stroll through town and don’t miss the site of Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery, the Bridal Veil Falls power plant, the red light district, and more!
  2. Telluride Gondola: Take a scenic ride on North America’s most unique form of public transportation, providing access to and from Mountain Village. Get off at Station San Sophia, taking in the views of Telluride on one side and Wilson Peak on the other. Stop into Allred’s restaurant for a cocktail with a view.
  3. Telluride Town Park: Town Park is the center of many activities and festivals. In the summer, it offers a public outdoor pool, mixed-use tennis/pickleball courts, athletic fields, sand volleyball, a skate park, basketball courts, a fishing pond, and a toddler playground. In the Winter, the Pavilion is transformed into an indoor ice rink, and a groomed track for nordic skiing.
  4. Bridal Veil Falls: Capture the mist on your face, breathe in the crisp mountain air, and immerse yourself in the beauty of Telluride's own natural masterpiece. Whether you hike up on the Bridal Veil Trail or drive up in a jeep, the wonders of Bridal Veil Falls are not to be missed. This breathtaking 365-foot cascade against the rugged cliffs. Adjacent to Colorado’s tallest free-falling waterfall is the Bridal Veil Power Plant which generates about 25% of Telluride’s demand for electricity, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  5. Bear Creek Preserve: 325 acres of natural beauty accessible by a wide, well-maintained path with a gentle incline. Great for various modes of transport such as snowshoe, fat bike, backcountry skiing in winter and hike or mountain bike in the summer. You will discover a sense of tranquility as you reach the end as Bear Creek Falls reveals itself.
  6. Valley Floor: The Telluride Valley Floor is a 3-mile stretch of land outside of town that has been preserved as an open space, representing one of the region’s greatest achievements in preservation. The area is popular for biking, hiking, running, snowshoeing, nordic skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and more. Enjoy the 20 km of groomed nordic trails for skate and classic skiing.
  7. Last Dollar Road: This four-wheel drive road connecting Telluride to Ridgway winds through a low valley surrounded by jagged peaks with jaw-dropping scenery. At one turn you’ll find yourself in a cathedral of aspens; at another, a flat vista with views of a quilt-like terrain; turn again, and you’re in a wide-open grassy field, where pristine nature is the only thing between you and the San Juan Mountains. Don’t miss the clear view of Wilson Peak and the historic ranch from the original “True Grit” western starring John Wayne. Go during summer for lush greenery as far as the eye can see; again in the fall for unparalleled red, yellow and orange foliage; and in spring, when grassy fields are blanketed with alpine wildflowers. If you’re up for a winter ski adventure, book a night at the quaint Last Dollar Hut and enjoy a cozy night in the wilderness.
  8. Tomboy Ghost Town: Two miles east of Telluride up the Imogene Pass Road, the ghost town of Tomboy, Colorado sits at an impressive 11,509 feet in elevation above San Miguel County. Between 1894 and 1926 the Tomboy Mine produced gold and zinc, causing the town to balloon to nearly 1,000 residents. In its heyday, Tomboy hosted a store, stable, school, and YMCA in addition to the residences for local miners. Once a thriving settlement at the turn of the 20th century, many of the mining and building remnants still stand today.
  9. Alta Lakes Ghost Town: Located up a four-wheel drive road on the way to Lizard Head Pass, this high elevation mining town was located at 11,800 feet. In its heyday a few hundred people lived here. The townsite was the center for the mining activity in the Alta-Gold King area from 1877-1948. The town was famous for being the first place to use Tesla’s AC transmission system. Originally, the mines were powered by coal, which required a 4 miles day trip by pack mule to reach the mines. Construction of a power plant and switching to electricity solved this.
  10. Trout Lake: Just 15 miles from downtown Telluride on Highway 145, Trout Lake is a great spot for both summer and winter recreation. In the summertime there is fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Up the road a few miles from the lake is the trailhead for one of our favorite summer hikes, Hope Lake. When the weather turns snowy, the Telluride Nordic Association grooms trails perfect for cross-country skiing, skate skiing and snowshoeing. The trailhead begins at the Historic Trestle on the southwest side of the lake. The trail follows the old Railroad grade making a small loop near Lizard Head Pass and returns back to the trailhead. The trail is considered intermediate, is pet-friendly and is approximately five miles round-trip.
  11. Ophir Pass: This historical mountain pass reaches a summit of 11,789 feet with roughly 10 miles connecting the Telluride region to Silverton. Ophir was a biblical mine said to have brought gold to King Solomon. In 1881 it was opened as a toll road but diminished in popularity when the railroad was laid across the nearby Lizard Head Pass. In 1953, the modern Ophir Pass Road officially reopened, becoming accessible to high clearance 4×4 vehicles. Drivers must be confident and alert to safely pass others along the narrow sections of the road. Remember uphill traffic has the right of way. At the top of the pass you can enjoy a remote stay in the rustic Opus Hut.
  12. Lizard Head Pass: A breathtaking 10,246 foot mountain pass along the San Juan Skyway, accessible via State Highway 145. At the top of the pass, there are multiple recreational activities available. The Lizard Head Trail #505 can be used for both high elevation hiking and snowshoeing. The trail is dog friendly and showcases seasonal wildflowers among the panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains. The Galloping Goose Trail #499 starts from the east side of CO-145 at the trailhead parking on Lizard Head Pass. It’s a popular 17.6 mile trail leading towards Telluride, open to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. There are also some camping options. In the large, open field south of the highway, the US Forest Service maintains roughly 15 dispersed campsites. The roads leading to the campsites can be a bit rough, and 4WD is recommended in muddy conditions. There is room for both tent or trailer camping.
  13. In the winter, there are groomed trails great for cross country skiing or fat biking.
  14. San Juan Skyway: Embark on this scenic All-American Road taking you through stunning mountain landscapes, historic towns, national parks, and the mesmerizing “Million Dollar Highway”. Along the way visit Ouray, Silverton, Durango, and Mesa Verde National Park.

Our Favorite Telluride Tours & Activities

People enjoying winter tour Discover the vibrant tapestry of Telluride through a variety of tours and activities. Here are some favorites that capture the essence of this mountain town.

Winter Snowmobile to the Alta Lakes Ghost Town Snowshoe and unwind in the remote wilderness Backcountry Ski Tour and get fresh tracks Ice Climb the majestic Ames Wall Fly fish the Uncompahgre Nordic Ski on one of the seven distinct nordic trail networks Fat Tire Bike the Valley Floor Take a Ride with Telluride Sleighs and Wagons

Summer
Reconnect with nature by hiking the endless trail systems around Telluride. Via Ferrata- Experience traversing across a cliffs edge at the end of Telluride’s box canyon. Brush up on your Rock Climbing skills Raft the San Miguel Paddleboard Alta Lakes Fly Fish the San Miguel Mountain Bike the Mill Creek Connector or E-bike the Last Dollar Road Explore the backcountry in a Jeep or Off-road vehicle Unplug in one of the luxurious Backcountry Huts

KG
Kelli G
Kelli is no stranger to outdoor adventure travel. Born into a family with strong ski heritage, she committed her earlier years to ski racing and big mountain freeskiing competitions. After she graduated with a Finance degree at the University of Denver she moved to Telluride, Colorado and worked up the ranks in the family-owned ski business. During her tenure, she wore all hats of the retail business and became one of the few female ski hardgoods buyers in the industry. For over 10 years she was a ski tester for Ski Magazine and was involved in multiple product development projects for various ski manufacturers. During the pandemic, she traded her skis for sails and spent a few years traveling the world on a 35' sailboat. She enjoys connecting to nature through whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking, skiing, sailing or globe trotting. She loves to share her passion for adventure and travel with others.